Growing up along the Central Coast of California, warm clam chowder served in a homemade bread bowl is the cornerstone of the Bay Area, California on a crisp and foggy Autumn afternoon. It’s something that my mind immediately wanders to when I’m reminded of the iconic dish. Accompanied with the revitalizing aroma and not so modest view of the Pacific Ocean while sitting on an old bench on a Pier filled with curious tourists wandering about takes me back to being a California native; not as enthusiastic as visitors and although slightly jaded, is appreciative of her surroundings. Warming my hands by clinging onto my toasty bread bowl and somehow, finding a sense of peace.
Although this recipe is quite hearty and filling, I wanted it to be a bit lighter while maintaining a few little culinary indulgences. Instead of adding a ton of heavy cream and flour like her relative, the traditional clam chowder, this recipe receives its richness by slowly cooking creamy potatoes into a light milk and chicken based broth, and is garnished with crispy, salty bacon lardon. Sauteed leeks and onions brighten up the dish, and fresh (or frozen if that’s all you have on hand) clams steamed at the last moment bring it all together accompanied by a touch of cracked pepper and fresh chives.
I am also using a lot less sea salt in this dish as you normally would for a soup or chowder, due to the natural seasoning that will occur from the fresh clams and bacon.
Potato and Leek Bacon Clam Chowder Recipe
- ¼ Yellow Onion - small diced
- ½ cup Leeks
- 4 medium Potatoes
- 4 cups Chicken Stock
- 2 cups Milk
- 2 Tbsp White Wine
- 1/2 lb of Clams in shell
- ¼ cup Bacon Lardon
- Sea salt + pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp Chives
- ¼ tsp Sea Salt
- ½ tsp Black Pepper
Chop yellow onion into a small dice.
Slice leeks into ¼ inch pieces.
Soak sliced leeks into cold water to remove any dirt or sand that may exist in leek.
Cut potatoes to a medium dice and place in cold water until ready to use. This prevents potatoes from oxidizing.
Add olive oil to a medium sized sauce pot at high heat, and saute onions and leeks until translucent.
Remove sauteed onions and leeks and set aside.
Lower the heat to a medium low, and deglaze your sauce pot with white wine.
Add chicken stock to your pot and whisk the bottom of your pot to release any leftover flavors from sauteed vegetables.
Drain water from potatoes and give them a quick rinse under cold water to wash off any residual starch.
Add potatoes to your chicken stock and let slowly cook for about twenty-five to thirty minutes.
When potatoes are almost tender enough to eat, add in your sauteed onions and leeks. Continue to simmer.
If using fresh clams, soak them under cold water for about half an hour while potatoes are cooking. They will filter out sand and salt water and take in the fresh water. This term is known as “burping”. If you are using frozen whole clams, skip this step as they have already been processed.
Warm up milk in a small sauce pot and add into your chowder. Bring to a strong simmer.
During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add in your fresh clams to your chowder. They will be ready when the shells open up. You can remove the clam meat easily if you desire before serving as it is really simply, or serve with the clams whole.
Season with a touch of sea salt.
In a small pan, render down your bacon lardon on medium heat until it is nice and crispy.
Pour your fresh clam chowder into a bowl, garnish with bacon lardon, fresh chives and a few extra clams on top.
Please do not forget the buttery toasted bread!
Step 1: Chop Vegetables
It is important to have your ingredients read ahead of time so assembling your dish will be much easier and take less time.
Chop onion into a small dice. Set aside.
Slice your leeks into ¼ inch thick pieces.
Cut potatoes, medium dice.
Step 2: Soak Potatoes
Immediately after cutting your potatoes into a medium dice, place potatoes into a bowl of cold water. This will release unwanted starch and prevent your potatoes from oxidizing. That way when you’re ready to add them to your chowder, you don’t have to cut them up in a frenzy.
Step 3: Clean Leeks
Leeks love to cling onto dirt and sand from the garden which they grew in since their layers are so tightly coiled together. It is vital to give them a quick cleaning in cold water before adding them to any dish. You may soak them into water and allow the excess dirt sink to the bottom of the dish. Remove your leeks and give them one extra rinse before its ready to cook!
Step 4: Saute Onions and Leeks
Add olive oil to your pot set on high heat, and saute your onions and leeks until translucent.
Step 5: Set Aside
At this stage we will be removing our sauteed onions and leeks from the pot and setting them aside. This way the leeks do not break down and disintegrate since the potatoes will need a bit of time to cook.
Step 6: Deglaze
Any leftover deliciousness from our sauteed vegetables need a bit of acid to lift off from the bottom of our pan. If you do not have white wine on hand, white wine vinegar or even white vinegar is fine to use. I personally love the flavor of white wine with delicate seafood and think it’s a great choice if you have some on hand. Please only use wine that is good enough to serve to your guests as a beverage for any cooking application.
Step 7: Add Chicken Stock and Potatoes
Lower your heat to a medium setting, and add in your chicken stock. Drain and rinse your potatoes that were soaking in water and gently place them into your pot as well for about twenty-five to thirty minutes.
When your potatoes are almost fork tender enough to eat, add in your sauteed onions and leeks that we had set aside earlier.
Step 8: Cleaning Fresh Clams
If you are using frozen whole clams, you may skip this step. For fresh clams, please place them in a bowl of cold water for about a half an hour. The clams will filter out the sandy salt water and take in the fresh water. This process is called, “ burping”. This is a great step to do while your potatoes are slowly simmering.
Step 9: Add Milk and Season with Salt
Warm up your milk separately into a small sauce pot and add to your simmering broth. It is never a good idea to add in cold dairy to hot broth, as you risk what is known as “ breaking” or, separation. This is a great tip for any creamy sauces or gravies! Season with ¼ teaspoon of sea salt and continue to simmer.
Step 10: Render Bacon
The key to crispy yet tender bacon is to render down the fat at a medium pace. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking extremely high heat will equal crispy bacon, but that is far from the truth.
In order to get that beautiful crimson hugh, add your chopped bacon, or bacon lardon, to your pan and allow the fat time to render off, and any sugar from the curing to caramelize.
Drain and set aside for garnish.
Step 11: Steam Clams
Your clams are ready to make their big debut! Lower the heat to a low setting and place them into your chowder for about 5 minutes until they open up. Discard any clams that remained closed. You may leave the shell on when serving, or easily remove the clam meat and discard shells. I promise it won’t be a tedious process since the clams are easy to find in your chowder.
Step 12: Garnish and Serve
Place your delicious and light brothy chowder into a bowl, and garnish with salty bacon lardon, fresh chives, cracked pepper and a few extra clams. Don’t forget the buttery and toasty bread!